Chapter 8 : Chapter Eight
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Wonderfully intense chapter image by justoncemorefic @ TDA
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of Rowling’s work. Also, this story is a work of fantasy, not historical fiction. I have taken many historical liberties while writing this piece and most of it may be considered anachronistic.
Helga Hufflepuff - Leelee Sobieski
Godric Gryffindor - Sean Bean
Salazar Slytherin - Joaquin Phoenix
Rowena Ravenclaw - Lena Headey
Ailbhe, Rowena’s handmaiden - Bryce Dallas Howard
Riol - Steven Mackintosh
Conall, The Captain-General of Alba - Bernard Hill
Iagan, Conall’s son - Kevin McKidd
The fortress of Hogwarts slumbered. On the cold stone floor, huddled by the scanty warmth provided by a quiet fire in the hearth and guarded by the enchanted ceiling, the men of Cornwall slept. As he paced between them, careful to step over cloaks and sword and discarded helms, Godric wondered what terror had driven Rowena from her ancestral home. But then he remembered Helga’s own power and how it was only advanced by her needful thirst for conquest. Rowena had fled from death, had bent as a gentle blade of grass does to the eager winds of the summer storm.
And Hogwarts now belonged to Godric.
He was uncomfortable within the great stone walls and eagerly awaited Helga’s arrival, upon which he would hand over the great responsibility of the stronghold. Upon his seizure of Hogwarts, he had climbed to the uppermost tower and sent an owl winging back to the Queen of Cornwall, hoping that she would be satisfied with his victory, although, now that he considered it, he could not rightfully claim triumph over a place that had already been abandoned.
And so his mind was uneasy, uneasy as the flames from the braziers that found an errant breeze to dance in. Uneasy for having come so far with no opposition. Uneasy for having Salazar seated upon the Ravenclaw’s empty throne, his eyes glittering with a malice Godric cursed himself for not recognizing earlier.
Perhaps Riol had been right.
Godric watched his companion from across the shadowed hall. Salazar seemed perfectly at ease with his place as lord of the fortress. He lounged in the great chair, his hair slightly mussed, raised on a dais above the rows of snoring men. Nearby stood Ailbhe, the servant girl who had shown them within Hogwarts in exchange for her life. Although Salazar had treated her unkindly, she seemed to have attached herself to him, which made Godric wonder just what strange powers the wizard from the East possessed.
Now, however, Salazar was bloated with victory. Content. And Godric envied him because he could find no peace in Hogwarts himself.
Pacing closer to the dais, Godric wove his way through the unsteady light, which seemed to play tricks on his eyes by suggesting that Salazar was indeed smiling. Smiling with utter triumph. The wind also began to play tricks on his hearing, convincing him that voices could be heard in the corridors outside the hall. Voices that seethed with malcontent and hopes of vengeance.
Godric felt his skin prickle.
“How is it,” he questioned Salazar, once he had drawn near enough to rest a foot on the edge of the dais, “how is it that you can find peace here?”
Salazar’s smile was ripe and taunting. He dropped his spindly fingers over the arms of Rowena’s chair and leaned forward so that Godric could smell the musty odors that had nestled in his clothing.
“That I will tell you, Gryffindor,” he began, but never finished, for into the hall rushed Alba’s belated sons. And they screamed and screeched and brandished weapons forged in their own glens with hands that were skilled from ages of hardship.
Godric realized at once that the wind had not deceived him. The wind never lied.
“To arms!” he cried, watching with horror as the attackers started to cut through his slumbering men.
The stones of Hogwarts never lied. Conall knew them all. He had laid them in rows, placed them one by one, by one, and watched the walls spring up, guarded by the forest and a magic that was older than the loch.
And although he had not been privy to the builder’s grand vision of towering majesty, Conall knew the castle well…knew the paths that led to secret passages and into the bowels of the fortress, where weak men slept and dreamt of the homelands they would never see again.
By the light of the anxious moon, Conall led the last of Alba’s army into Hogwarts. Faint torchlight guided them through passages that were slick with humid dew and stank of the marshy loch. Rats, and other, less daring rodents provided a chattering chorus to mark their progress. In the dark, Conall saw their eyes shining with hollow amusement and his gut clenched.
Perhaps they were the true masters of Hogwarts.
The passage climbed up from the depths of a valley, winding up a steady slope so that the men bent their frames forward and used their swords as walking sticks to keep their balance. When they reached a plateau, Conall stopped and raised his torch above his head. Embers rained down and singed his beard.
“Men of Alba!” he called, hoping almost that the sleeping Cornish soldiers in the Great Hall above heard the mighty echo of his voice. In their last moments, he wished them all the fear and regret due to men who marauded and took delight in conquest.
His son Iagan reached his side, sweat streaming down his brow despite the drifts of snow that had piled up outside the castle. “Father,” he said, a pleasant eagerness to his voice. He too wished for blood.
Conall took a slow, deep breath before he continued. “Our hour is at hand,” he said while his brothers gathered around him. “The men of Cornwell sleep. I bid you, do not be moved by pity. These men have done naught but ravish and ruin all of England…and now they come to us. Remember your children. Remember the glory of Alba. And remember what our Queen has forgotten.”
There were fitful stirrings. Blades glinted. The heat from Conall’s torch washed down his arm and into the core of his body.
In that moment, keeping company with the rats and spiders and trapped in the passage that so greatly mimicked the uneasiness of the crypt, fear struck him.
Helga’s numbers were too great. They would fail.
But then he thought of Rowena, his Queen, who had fled abroad without a thought to the well-being of her people.
He could not, he realized, afford to be a coward.
Turning, he drove his men through the final chamber of the passage, emerging at last into the ringing coldness of Hogwarts.
As expected, the soldiers of Cornwall slept. And as expected, the men of Alba showed them no mercy.
They came as a serpent does. Uncoiling in great, leathery bands to fill the entire space of the hall, clotting the entrances and only routes of escape with their thick bodies and keen blades, whetted for the taste of blood.
For a moment, as Godric watched his men stagger awake only to meet death, he found himself frozen with fear. Alba’s men had not so lightly quit their homeland, as had Rowena. They had been clever. They had waited. And they had struck the Cornish advance guard through it’s weak underbelly, leaving, in a matter of minutes, the great bulk of his force desolated.
Panic came and tasted more bitter than the steel used to slice flesh.
But then Godric remembered himself. He remembered the glittering sword strapped to his side and all the things Helga had taught him. Hogwarts was still his and would remain his until he could joyfully hand it over to his Queen.
Trembling with fury, he reached first for his wand.
The man closest to him has his backed turned and Godric could see the rough stitching that held together his haubrek, could see the creases in his leather tunic and smell the stale sweat that made the clean air repulsive.
He pointed his wand at the man and shouted, “Confringo!”
A stream of pale flames leapt forth and danced across his enemy’s shoulders. The man howled and dropped his blade, wheeling wildly just so that Godric could send another blast into his chest.
Across the room, he saw a young Cornish soldier on his knees, one hand gripping the hilt of a small dagger as he tried in vain to defend himself from the mighty blows of a broadsword wielded by a man of Alba.
Godric half-turned and summoning the dark strength he knew he possessed, sent a slashing spell at the lumbering brute. A flash of harsh light and the man was felled, but too late…Godric saw that the boy he had sought to defend was already dead.
He scarcely had time to register rage when another man sprang on him, a thick cudgel held in his meaty hands. The edge of the club caught his cheek and Godric reeled backwards, tasting blood. Pain shattered his awareness as the cudgel made contact with his right thigh. Crumpling to the floor, he dropped his wand. And then, in the dark recesses of agony, he heard the soldiers of Alba screaming.
“Kill the sorcerer! Kill him!”
Blindly, Godric found his sword strapped to his side and thrust upward, feeling the blade make contact with an indefinite object. A man howled and retreated.
Godric recovered just in time to spot his wand lying next to his knees. Yet another man was on him, followed by what seemed to be a dozen others.
He reeled, his back crashing into a wall. There were too many…too many for him…
But then he noticed the great stone arches that supported the vast length of the ceiling. Godric pointed his wand overhead.
The spell hit the curve in the arch and the stone shattered, sending a hail of heavy rocks down upon his attackers. A pillar collapsed, crushing both men of Alba and Cornwell alike. Dust darkened the air, carrying the sounds of whimpers and groans to Godric’s ears even as he stood, pressed carefully against the wall, his body shielded from harm.
There was a moment of breathless silence. The echo of it reverberated against his ribcage. Gasping painfully, he dared to take a step forward and stumble over the ruined arch. Through the haze, he could see not a single figure stirring.
Was it over? Was it all over?
The cry of rage came at him then, reaching for him with all the ferocity of the eager winter wind.
More men of Alba were pouring into the hall and at their head was a great warrior. A man of immense height and strength and a look of perilous thirst in his hard face that made Godric himself tremble.
Fueled by instinct, he threw up his sword just in time to deflect the first blow the warrior could deliver.
But the man soon recovered and lunged forward.
Godric’s heart sank.
Hogwarts was surely lost.
Instinct had told Helga not to linger long on the fringes of Alba. Although she had benefited from the fruits of her pillaging, providing her army with much needed supplies and morale, something deep and urgent beckoned her to battle.
She had been only a day behind Godric’s advance guard when she had received his first message by owl. The time was portentous. Alba lay without defense and she herself rode at the head of a great host, lusting for the final jewel she might add to her crown of triumph.
Alba, fair Alba.
She had not expected Godric to win the passage to Hogwarts easily. Some minor resistance along the road, she reasoned, would be a suitable test of the skills she already knew he possessed. And should the situation become dire, she herself was close enough to aid him.
Her precautions, however, proved perfectly unnecessary. In a day and a night, Godric had come to Hogwarts and found the stronghold abandoned. All of Alba was Helga’s for the taking.
The Queen of Cornwall, nay, all of Britain, sat in a forest clearing not far from the mighty fortress now. In her gloved hand, she clutched the second message Godric had sent winging to her through the night.
She must come and rightfully claim Hogwarts.
Impatience provoked her most hasty fancies. Her forces, which had massed and grown into a living creature, a great train of breathing, yearning power, nearly convinced her to plunge heedlessly through the last league of forest and see the castle for herself.
But Helga remembered prudence. And so she stopped her march and waited and watched and sent scouts to survey the roads. It was a hour since her riders had left. Night had fallen and deepened and her men, untouched by fatigue, stirred restlessly.
Looking upon those closest to her, the personal guard that clustered about her horse on fine mounts of their own, brought unexpected disappointment to her mind.
Helga almost felt sorry for not having given them a battle.
As it was, her tongue was slick with the deceptive taste of desire. Her muscles were tensed and she was unable to sit still in the saddle for long. Unknown aches pinched her bones, while the added weight of her padded tunic and chain mail hauberk brought an unnatural sweat to her flesh.
The night was unsettled, the stars burning bright then fading behind fickle clouds.
Time pressed down upon her.
At long last, the first of her scouts returned, riding hard on a horse driven wild with terror. The soldier came thundering along the path, crashing into the clearing with such a noise that the trees seemed to whisper unhappily.
Helga had only to look at the man’s face to understand.
“Queen majesty,” he gasped, his complexion a dreadful mixture of blood and pallor. “The forces of Alba have set upon Hogwarts castle. Lord Gryffindor is under siege!”
A smile took away Helga’s fretful unease. Sitting straight in her saddle, she lifted her head and mocked the sentinel stars with a laugh.
She had her battle.
For the first time in ages, Salazar felt panic overtake him. This was not supposed to happen. He had arranged it. Rowena had promised….
Having fled the Great Hall at the first signs of trouble, he found himself trapped in an antechamber, the ringing and clashing of swords too close to put his mind at ease.
Sweating and shaking, he rounded on Ailbhe, who had been his shadow and followed him from the Hall to cower in the tight passages of her ancestral home.
“You swore!” he screamed, spittle flying from his mouth.
The girl flinched, but stood her ground. In the light of a solitary, flickering brazier, Salazar could almost make out a different set of features.
His potion was wearing off.
“I ordered the Captain-General to abandon Hogwarts,” Ailbhe said fiercely, her lips drawing back and the pleasant blush of her cheeks succumbing to pallor. The roots of her red hair had already turned black.
Reaching within his tunic, he felt the cold form of a flask, grasped it and promptly thrust it at his companion. “Drink, Rowena,” he ordered. “Your form changes and we cannot risk one of your mongrel soldiers recognizing their queen.”
Ailbhe, who was in fact Rowena disguised, laughed bitterly. “Brave Conall,” she said, invoking the name of her loyal Captain-General, who was even now leading his men into battle against the Cornish invaders. “I dismissed him, but he would not go. This fortress is as much his as mine. You see now what a weak queen I am, Salazar. Perhaps you should have never allied yourself with me.”
But Salazar was too distracted to take heed of her mutterings. Like a trapped rat, he ran frantically along the thick walls of the chamber, feeling for a door or some portal that would guide them to safety.
“It matters not,” he said, “my plans are nearly in ruins. We must escape and avoid the swift justice of the blade. Cursed wretch, help me! Are there not passages that we might follow?”
Turning, he grasped her forearm and shook her hard.
Rowena dropped the now empty flask to the floor and the metallic ring of its descent was hidden by the screams of dying men in the Hall.
“Conall knows the passages as well,” she said evenly. “He came though I bid him not to. Ah, my people have not yet abandoned hope. Perhaps their queen should have never forsaken it as well.”
Grim determination shaped her countenance, which was now, upon the administering of the potion, fully Ailbhe’s once more.
Salazar did not hesitate. With the flat of his palm, his delivered a stinging slap to Rowena’s cheek.
She stumbled, but kept to her feet, offering him a glare as she tried to stand straight.
“No, Salazar,” she said hoarsely. “I shall not lead you to safety. We shall both die here, with my soldiers, as we ought to have in the first place. Alba is not Helga’s yet.”
Godric could scarcely recover fast enough as the yellow-haired warrior directed a cutting thrust at his torso. Twisting, he felt the blade ghost past his abdomen. He lost his footing and stumbled over a jagged stone. Pain punctured his focus, causing him to limp lamely to avoid yet another blow.
There was a wondrous strength in this man’s arms, he realized, and even with the aid of his magic, Godric knew that he could not defeat him.
His opponent surely knew this and he threw easy taunts at the wizard. “Fight, sorcerer!” he demanded, leaning backward slightly as Godric plunged heedlessly forward, hoping to skewer the man in the gut.
A swift kick to his shoulder sent him sprawling, rolling over onto his side even as the warrior approached him.
In an instant, his enemy let the very tip of his blade fall, leaving a bloody mark just above Godric’s collarbone. He hissed with anger and shame, feeling the hot splash of crimson decorate his heaving flank.
Gasping, he raised his wand and screamed, “Expelliar--”
But the warrior was quicker. Uttering a fierce grunt, he brought the edge of his sword down and crushed Godric’s wand. The pressure of the blow sent waves of agony shooting up Godric’s arm. His fingers curled convulsively and he released the remaining splinter of wood, hearing it clatter to the dusty floor with the sound of a death knell.
Helga’s sword, use Helga’s sword, he thought desperately. Do not lie down and die. Stand and fight to the last.
The warrior was still towering over him and Godric took advantage of the moment to dive at the man’s legs. The weight of his body drove his opponent to the floor. They both landed with a sharp jolt. Godric’s mouth came into contact with hard stone and blood bloomed behind his teeth.
Spitting and cursing, he managed to gain his feet first. Around him, he was vaguely conscious of the sounds of battle. Some of his soldiers yet survived and were struggling valiantly for their lives. But strangely enough, their prolonged shouts and cries were muted, obscured by a great noise that seemed to come from outside the fortress.
It seemed as if all of Helga’s army was at the walls of Hogwarts.
But even in such a moment of desperation, Godric ignored his own folly. He could only concentrate on his efforts to at least delay his death. Before him now the warrior was rising, crimson pouring from a gash at his temple.
Godric noticed his confusion and raised his sword. As he thrust downward, the warrior slipped to the side, causing him to only catch the man’s knee with his blade and even so, the wound was superficial. But as he stumbled about, the warrior sliced his own sword across Godric’s back.
Blackness came for a moment and then faded. Godric found himself lying face first on the stone floor once more. His blade had fallen from his grasp and lay a perilous foot away.
Forcing himself onto his back, his cast out his arm and groped for the hilt.
But the warrior stomped on his arm. An ugly crack rent the air and for all his bravery, Godric screamed.
Outside, in a realm that belonged wholly to the living, he heard the rising swell of battering rams.
Before the pain had subsided , the warrior had pressed his sword to his chest, leaning down.
Death, Godric thought in the last fleeting moment he might be granted awareness, so this is death.
And yet, death did not come. He watched with a horrified shock as the warrior faltered, the corners of his mouth sagging…now flecked with foam.
Riol had come up behind him and driven a spear clean through his torso.
“Get up, Gryffindor,” his savior demanded. “Get up! We are outnumbered yet!”
The urgency of Riol’s voice drove Godric to his feet, forcing him to ignore the pain that traveled in unrelenting waves up his broken arm. As he rose, the warrior fell, gasping once, then dying in a grotesque, convulsive fit.
Godric stooped and retrieved his sword. The tumult outside the walls had grown, now reaching the hall doors, the strong wood bulging strangely against some unknown force.
But his mind was scarred with agony and he could only hake his head dumbly.
“Thank--” Godric began, but was interrupted as Riol reeled backwards in fright.
“Iagan! My son!”
Godric wheeled around in time to hear the last of the old man’s tortured cry. With white-lipped madness, this new opponent raced towards him, broadsword gleaming and slick with gore.
He did not even have the time to raise his own sword when….
“Avada Kedavra!” The spell cut through the chaos of battle, leaving Godric standing frozen.
But the old man was dead at his feet. Dead and staring. Godric saw himself reflected in lifeless eyes and shuddered.
Riol, blood leaking from a torn lip, sank weakly against the wall.
She emerged from the blasted ruins of the hall door, an old traveling cloak swept from her shoulders to reveal the full glory of her armor. Easily, and with a measure of obscene confidence, she stepped over the rubble and limp bodies, pausing by the old man she had felled just long enough to nudge him with the toe of her boot.
Helga Hufflepuff smiled, losing herself to rare emotion and flinging her arms around Godric’s neck. “Rejoice with me, Gryffindor,” she whispered fiercely, her breath hot and insistent against his sweaty cheek. “We have won Hogwarts at last.”
Author’s Note: What’s a Founders story without a big medieval battle, eh? I do hope this chapter wasn’t too confusing…I know that a lot happened in a rather short space of time. Please let me know if you have any questions and I’ll try my best to clear things up. ^_^
As always, thanks so much for taking the time to read! There are two chapters and an epilogue left. Chapter Nine will be written and posted as quickly as my school schedule allows. Until then, take care and be well!
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